Serena has nothing to prove at French
It was Williams' 50th career singles title and it preserved her No. 1 ranking. But "Bestest Ever" will have to wait, some say, until she adds at least one more French Open title to a Hall of Fame list of accomplishments.
While Williams has won all three clay court tournaments she has played in 2013, including her latest straight-set triumph over No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka in the Italian Open final Sunday, the next test could be the toughest.
It has been 11 years since Williams' last and only championship at Roland Garros, and she has gone no further than the quarterfinals since 2003. Just as glaring was the way she exited last year in perhaps the most shocking upset of her career with a first-round loss to unseeded and 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano.
But lest anyone has forgotten, Williams rebounded quite nicely by winning Wimbledon, the Olympic gold medal, the U.S. Open and the Masters. And despite her Australian Open hiccup in January (when, hampered by ankle and back injuries, she lost in the quarterfinals to Sloane Stephens), Williams is healthy and seemingly at the top of her game.
"Every time I play, I really relish it more," Williams told reporters after the Madrid title. "I feel like, 'Honestly, Serena, when are you going to get tired?' I don't know."
It is that ease with which Williams is still playing and still triumphing over the world's best at 31, that makes it very difficult to pick against her in the French Open, which begins Sunday.
"Usually the pattern with Serena is that if she sets her mind on revenge or reclaiming something; she has been fueled and angered by that loss," ESPN tennis analyst and former perennial top-10 player Pam Shriver said. "I think she loved that record of having never lost a first-round match in a major before [last year's French] and the way she lost that match.
"It is her weakest major. Is it possible for her to be upset two years in a row on this surface? Of course. But all signs point toward her getting even."
If Williams meets Azarenka in the semis or finals of the French, Williams holds a 12-2 advantage in their head-to-head series, though Azarenka, who beat Williams in their previous meeting -- a three-set final in February, in Qatar on hard courts -- was exhibiting some of her customary gamesmanship Sunday.
"She definitely showed some incredible tennis today," Azarenka said after Williams' 6-1, 6-3 victory. "But I don't think the score says how close the match was. She was better at key moments."
Indeed, Williams did not drop a set in Rome and lost just one apiece in the Madrid Open and the Family Circle Cup in Charleston -- the last three tournaments, all clay courts, she has played. Last year, she won in Charleston and Madrid and lost in the semifinals in Rome to Li Na.
"Last year, I was feeling excellent on clay but didn't do that great at Roland Garros," Williams said Sunday. "This year, I'm cautious, and I want to work hard and stay focused and win every point I play and not slack at all."
Williams is still a long way from matching the all-time leaders in Grand Slam titles (she has 15, while Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have 18 and Margaret Court tops the list at 24); match win streak (she is currently riding a career-best 24 in a row, while Navratilova holds the record at 74) and career singles titles (Navratilova has 167 to Williams' 51).
But Williams is two titles away from equaling Monica Seles, who is ninth on the all-time list, and Shriver said winning her second French title would be nice for Williams but is not mandatory in order to take her place among the all-time greats.
"Does Roger Federer need a second French to prove he's the greatest ever?" Shriver asked. "Not that Serena is the greatest ever, but I don't think she needs a second French to prove anything. She has a career Grand Slam [winning all four majors], and I can't think of a more elite club. Winning more than one of all four is beyond ridiculous. It happens so seldom, even among the elite, that to me, I don't feel she needs it.
"But I do think she'd love it, and it would only further add to her greatness."